Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bowen's Confectionary; Portsmouth Virginia

In the late 30s my Grandparents owned and lived in a store that was located about 3 blocks away from where I live now. Unfortunately it was torn down to make way for "brick ranchers", a new prosperity for the Park View neighborhood. I'll never understand tearing down an old house to make room for a new one. I do think there are times when old houses are in such a state of disrepair that they should be torn down but I have also seen homes that I thought could never be revived turned into their once majestic selves! This is the only picture I have ever seen of their store. Portsmouth Naval Hospital is located on the street that runs beside the store. My Dad tells me that hungry workers from the Hospital would pick up lunch orders in boxes so full they would overflow. The phrase "Location, Location, Location" couldn't apply better! I'm sure it also had something to do with my Grandmother's cooking. This was probably the Fast Food Restaurant of it's day (you know, good old fashioned Diner food!). When my Dad saw the picture he sent me this email:

The sign reads BOWEN'S under that is SWIFT ICE CREAM. The bikes may be mine and Eddie's or just someone from the neighborhood, we did not deliver. The building (store and upstairs apartment) were an existing facility. Swift did a large business in the area and had an office in Norfolk diagonally across the street from Doumar's. If you will note all the sign work in the windows was done by Swift. When you walked in the door the service counter was on the wall next to the house on the right and ran toward the back of the store, across from the counter (Spratley street side) was booths and a juke box, in the back was a storage area and work area where they made up the hamburgers etc. I looked at the shadow on the foreground and think it could be your Granddad (just a guess). The city bus PTC stopped on the corner of Spratley and Elm across from the car that you see in the picture. Down the street (Elm) towards High St. on the right hand side was a D. P. Store (grocery) where dad purchased ground beef (after he fired uncle Wilson who put to much fat in his ground beef). D. P. was a local chain run by David Pender, through a series of purchases they became the Colonial Stores which was the largest grocery chain in the area at one time.

I don't remember when but my Grandmother gave me the cake plate that was used at the store and always had some kind of sweet under it's chrome lid. She always loved sweets and made the best Blondies you ever tasted (she also cooked popcorn in bacon grease and made Snow Cream whenever it snowed!). She was a true Southern cook and it was always a treat to have dinner with her and my Grandfather.

This is her 1931 Pet Recipe cookbook which has her hand written ice cream instructions and a notation of where her favorite Corn Pudding recipe could be found.

I don't cook as much as I would like to because I don't have the time. I think about all she and women of her generation had to do and wonder how they ever got it all done!

My Grandmother, Mildred, will celebrate her 101st birthday at the end of this month. One more year older, unfortunately she is slipping away from us. I miss the vibrant person she used to be, I miss hearing her hum along to her favorite song on the record player, I miss her laughing with my Nannie (they became very good friends!), I miss spending summers on their farm in Suffolk where we slept on the back porch and ate strawberries straight from their garden. So many memories I can recall when I hold something that once belonged to my family. My son was asking questions about all the stuff I have around here and he asked me how I could remember where every object came from, when I got it and who had given it to me. I told him it was my job to know, I had to tell them so they could remember our past. Without our past we have no roots, no foundation. These things are as important to me as my children's baby clothes, their first tooth, their hugs.

Happy Birthday Grandmom!


  1. What a wonderful post. I agree, family history and traditions are so important. It's wonderful that you know so much about your past and are passing it on to your children. The photograph of the store is priceless. I also hate when historical buildings are knocked down to make way for the new. Who ever said new means better? You are blessed to still have your Grandmother. I wish her a blessed 101 (WOW!) birthday celebration.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. This was such a sweet post! Some of it reminded me of my dads family history- his parents owned a small restaurant on Old Orchard Beach in Maine. How wonderful it is that you have something from that place to remember it by, I think I have a photo of it stored away. And I 100% agree it is such a shame that so many places are being demolished to bring in new homes that wont last even a 1/4 of what the old ones withstood. They just don't make things the same do they? Thanks for such a wonderful post. :)


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